Tearful trip to UK for Australian Bomber Command vets
Seventy years have passed but the emotion remains for Australian veterans of World War II Bomber Command.
SEVENTY years have passed but the emotion remains for Australian veterans of World War II Bomber Command.
During a special Australian service at an Air Forces memorial on the outskirts of London on Tuesday tears flowed among an aged gathering as thoughts turned to thousands of fallen comrades.
About 10,000 Australians served with Bomber Command, with 3486 killed in battle, while a further 650 died in training accidents in the United Kingdom.
“In lonely cockpits at dizzy altitudes … in fog, in deadly cold, in storms, on fire, in prison camps, in skin grafting hospitals, there are none deserving more honour. Today we remember their selfless sacrifice,” Major General Mark Kelly told the gathering of about 100 veterans.
The veterans from across Australia are in London for the dedication of a memorial to Bomber Command by the Queen on Thursday. It commemorates the 55,573 Bomber Command aircrew killed during the war.
“This is a very emotional day,” Adelaide veteran David Leicester, 88, told AAP.
“It really gets to me and I will find I have tears in my eyes for the whole week of celebrations. The playing of the Last Post and the national anthem of both countries gets right into my heart.
“When the Queen unveils the memorial on Thursday, I can’t even begin to think how I will react, with so much emotion.”
Mr Leicester flew 68 missions with Bomber Command, mostly night-time bombing operations over German cities in aircraft including the Halifax, and Pathfinder Lancasters.
“One of the worst nights for me was March 30/31 1944 when 96 aircraft were shot down and a further number crash landed,” Mr Leicester said.
“It was the worst night for Bomber Command casualties and we had a particularly bad time, returning on three engines and severe damage to the aircraft.
“It was a very rough landing, but we were the lucky ones.”
Steve Flood, 88, from Stanthorpe in Queensland, flew as a air gunner in 30 Bomber Command operations for 467 Squadron over enemy territory in 1944.
“One was a raid to Revigny (France) which was only a small raid of 106 aircraft and altogether 24 were lost. (Squadron) 467 had six aircraft on the raid that night and only four came back.”
While Mr Flood is looking forward to Thursday’s Bomber Command memorial dedication as a “fitting” tribute, the highlight of his trip to England will be a war museum visit where he will be reunited with the Lancaster aircraft affectionately called S Is For Sugar.
“It will be the first time since 1945 that I’ve seen her,” Mr Flood said of the Lancaster.
“I was on board her one night when she lost 120 rivets out of her wing. I remember the pilot saying `we’ve been hit’, but we still got back okay.” – AAP
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